Question: Is it permissible for a person to change their intentions while in prayer, changing the prayer from an obligatory prayer to a Sunna prayer?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate,
The Intention Of the Prayer
When one enters into a prayer, it becomes necessary to complete that prayer as initiated. Furthermore, exiting a prayer that has already been commenced is prohibitively disliked, if done without the need or a valid excuse. [Tahtawi/Shurunbulali, Hashiyat Maraqi al-Falah]
Exiting the Prayer
It is not possible to exit a prayer or switch from one prayer to another merely by changing one’s intention. In order to exit a prayer or switch to another, two things are required: a new intention and an action. [Ibid.]
Some examples of the above are as follows:
If one wishes to leave the prayer they are in and initiate a different prayer, they must intend the new prayer and say the Takbir.
If one wishes to exit a prayer they must perform an action that terminates the prayer, such as saying the salam with the intention of exiting, turning away from the Qibla, invalidating the wudu, etc…
From the above, you can see that a mere intention is not sufficient.
Switching To Another Prayer
Even if one did properly switch from one prayer to another with the above criteria (note it is prohibitively disliked to do so without a valid excuse), the newly initiated prayer commences from the beginning. The person will not build upon what they have already prayed – as that has become void.
Making-Up Broken Prayers
Note that any prayer, other than the obligatory or necessary prayer, that is initiated is necessary to finish. If one breaks such a prayer before seeing it to its proper conclusion, it becomes necessary for them to make-up that prayer.
This ruling is based upon the principle ‘Commencement is binding.’ This idea can and has also been taken from the Qur’anic verse “O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and do not nullify your deeds.” [Qur’an; 47:33]
I hope this helps,
Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.